To paraphrase every coach you’ve every had: There’s no aisle in team! I’m not sure this will convince many people, but it’s still a bit reassuring to hear. Chief Justice John Roberts made reassurance a priority in his address to an audience yesterday at the University of Minnesota law school, attempting to remind people that the Supreme Court should have no partisan identity or function. Roberts reaffirmed Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee in his contention that there is no “aisle” at the Supreme Court, but instead a commitment to the Constitution:
— POLITICO (@politico) October 17, 2018
Roberts did offer a rhetorical tip of the hat to Kavanaugh, quoting his remarks at his White House swearing-in, where he noted that the justices don’t arrange themselves on opposite sides of an aisle by political party.
“We do not serve one party or one interest, but we serve one nation,” the chief justice said, still citing his newest colleague. “I want to assure all of you that we will continue to do that to the best of our abilities, whether times are calm or contentious.” …
Despite some politically polarized and polarizing decisions from the high court in recent years, Roberts described collegiality between the justices as “very, very good.”
“We do think we are in this important enterprise together,” he said. “In many ways, it’s unlike any other job … that does cause a real bond to develop between you.”
Furthermore, Roberts argued, the Constitution already has a branch that speaks for the people — and it’s not the judiciary. In our system of government, the courts are not supposed to be the voice or shepherd of the people:
“I will not criticize the political branches. We do that often enough in our opinions,” quickly adding he would speak about how “the judicial branch is, how it must be, very different.”
Roberts said he has great respect for public officials since “they speak for the people.”
“That commands a certain degree of humility from those of us in the judicial branch who do not,” he said. “We do not speak for the people, but we speak for the Constitution.” …
“Our role is very clear: We are to interpret the Constitution and laws of the United States, and to ensure that the political branches act within them,” he said. “That job obviously requires independence from the political branches. The story of the Supreme Court would be very different without that sort of independence.”
While also reassuring, it also serves as at least a tacit rebuttal to arguments made in many judicial confirmations. Nominees are constantly bombarded with demands about how they will treat the poor and disadvantaged in their work. Most nominees play along by noting their sympathies to both and offering personal anecdotes, while their opponents drag up decisions that ruled in favor of their betes noires. We got plenty of this during the hearings for both Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, with Democrats claiming that they sided with “corporate interests” as reasons to oppose them.
Roberts suggests the proper answer to these arguments: Isn’t that your job? Judges apply the law written by legislators as well as the Constitution. If the law needs to rebalance for “the little guy,” that’s not the job of the people wearing the robes — it’s the job of the people writing the law in the legislature. Telling Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris it’s their job to write the laws properly in the first place won’t win their votes for confirmation, but … these days, the votes of Feinstein, Harris, and the rest of the Senate Democrats on judicial appointments made by Republican presidents are off the table anyway. May as well provide them some remedial instruction in basic American civics, as Robert does by implication here.